Wednesday, February 23, 2005

iPod Solipsism

I read a brilliant article this morning by Andrew Sullivan about “iPod people.” He says that we are becoming so encased in our own personal bubbles of self-selected music, TV and radio programming, Internet feeds, and so forth that we increasingly tune out, isolate ourselves from, and miss so much of the world outside that makes life worthwhile. Says Sullivan, Technology has given us a universe entirely for ourselves — where the serendipity of meeting a new stranger, hearing a piece of music we would never choose for ourselves or an opinion that might force us to change our mind about something are all effectively banished.” We miss “That hilarious shard of an overheard conversation that stays with you all day; the child whose chatter on the pavement takes you back to your early memories; birdsong; weather; accents; the laughter of others. And those thoughts that come not by filling your head with selected diversion, but by allowing your mind to wander aimlessly through the regular background noise of human and mechanical life.” Yet, he admits to having an iPod of his very own and to having a very difficult time giving it up. But he remembers a day when he forgot to take his iPod with him to the airport and how his initial “panic” gave way to something else. I noticed the rhythms of others again, the sound of the airplane, the opinions of the taxi driver, the small social cues that had been obscured before. I noticed how others related to each other. And I felt just a little bit connected again and a little more aware.”

I confess that I have thought many times about purchasing my own iPod or comparable variant and taking John McLaughlin, Bach, Alan Watts, and Ken Wilber with me wherever I go. But then I think of the iPod zombies I saw all day when I worked at the airport; that great episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation where the Enterprise crew are mind-controlled by a seemingly harmless video game given to them by aliens bent on taking over their ship; Thich Nhat Hanh’s and Eknath Easwaran’s gentle but firm calls to mindfulness; and now Sullivan’s thoughtful article, and I think I’ll at least wait until these devices come down in price or improve in features and reliability before I join the ranks of the living dead.

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